By Judy Royal (Reuters)
CAROLINA BEACH, N.C. - Raging North Carolina rivers still rising after Hurricane Matthew threaten up to a week more of death and destruction, the state's governor said on Sunday as the storm's remnant headed out to sea, leaving a path of carnage from the Caribbean up the U.S. Southeast coast.
Matthew, the most powerful Atlantic storm since 2007, was downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone on Sunday after its rampage through the Caribbean killed nearly 900 people in Haiti. In the United States, the death toll rose to 17 people, and more than 2 million U.S. homes and business lost power.
With five people reported missing and rivers rising, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory said he expected more deaths. Eight people in the state have died so far, he said, raising the count by one, and several rivers are swelling to records and will not crest for days.
Many coastal and inland communities were still under water, either from coastal storm surge or overrun rivers and creeks, and dangerous conditions existed from downed power lines and damaged homes.
All 2,000 residents of Princeville, the oldest town in the United States incorporated by African Americans, were told on Sunday afternoon to evacuate due to the risk of flash floods.
Deputies went from house to house to spread the word about the mandatory order. The town, which was devastated by Hurricane Floyd in 1999, lies on the Tar River about 25 miles (40 km) north of Greenville. The river is projected to set a flood record of 28.4 feet (8.7 meters), about 10 feet (3 meters) higher than normal at nearby Rocky Mount later on Sunday, Assistant Fire Chief Ronnie Raper said.
Several dams have breached in the area around Cumberland County, south of Raleigh, Michael Martin, fire marshal for the city of Fayetteville, said by phone.
Swiftwater rescue teams are still on alert and there have been 255 water rescue calls and 701 people rescued, he said.
"Hurricane Matthew is off the map, but it is still with us and it is still deadly," Governor McCrory said, forecasting a week of "life and death" threats.
The storm center was about 200 miles (320 km) off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and heading away from land, according to the National Hurricane Center's 5 p.m.(2100 GMT) report. It discontinued all tropical storm warnings.
The storm still packed hurricane force winds as far as 90 miles (150 km) from the center and tropical-storm-force winds 240 miles (390 km) away.
U.S. President Barack Obama declared a state of emergency in Georgia and Florida, freeing up federal money to help the states repair damaged infrastructure and remove debris.
Florida reported five storm-related deaths, Georgia three and South Carolina one.
McCrory said 334 rescue workers risked their lives carrying out 877 rescues overnight.
"These rescue teams, I've got to let you know, they are extremely exhausted at this time," McCrory said.
In one of the dramatic rescues in North Carolina, out-of-state firefighters helped save three people from the roof of an SUV in inland Cumberland County, where more than 500 rescues took place.
Flash flooding turned a creek into a "roaring, raging river" that swept the vehicle off the roadway on Saturday night, said Battalion Chief Joe Downey of the Fire Department of New York. He was part of a team from three states that carried out 64 rescues on Saturday night and Sunday morning.
"Water was almost up to the roof of the SUV," Downey said in a telephone interview. "It was bad. They had nowhere to go."In Florence County, South Carolina, a vehicle trying to cross a flooded roadway was swept away by flood waters, killing one person, Governor Nikki Haley said.
Elsewhere in her state, coastal officials asked evacuees to wait to return and Charleston residents raked out storm drains and cleared debris near their homes.
In Virginia, where more than 300,000 customers lost power, the city of Norfolk declared a state of emergency and urged its citizens to remain off the road, while the city of Virginia Beach closed all parks, recreation centers, libraries and the Virginia Aquarium.
(Additional reporting by Harriet McLeod in Charleston, S.C., Eric Johnson in Seattle, and Frank McGurty and Gina Cherelus in New York,; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Peter Henderson; Editing by Bill Trott and Alistair Bell)